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The Latest | Israel says it will send more troops to Rafah, as fighting also rages in Gaza’s north

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Israel’s defense minister said the military would send more troops into Rafah, a city along Gaza’s southern border with Egypt, as fighting also rages in northern Gaza, where Hamas has regrouped.

South Africa is seeking emergency measures at the U.N.’s top court to halt Israel’s escalating offensive in Rafah, calling the incursion “the last step in the destruction of Gaza.” Israel has portrayed Rafah as the last Hamas stronghold, brushing off warnings from the United States and other allies that any major operation there would be catastrophic for civilians.

No food has entered the two main border crossings in southern Gaza for more than a week. Some 1.1 million Palestinians are on the brink of starvation, according to the U.N.

Around 600,000 Palestinians have been driven out of Rafah since the beginning of last week, the U.N. said. Some 80% of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million Palestinians have fled their homes since the start of the war, with many relocating multiple times.

Seven months of war have killed more than 35,000 people in Gaza, most of them women and children, according to local health officials.

The war began Oct. 7 when Hamas attacked southern Israel, killing around 1,200 people there, mostly civilians, and taking about 250 hostage. Israel says militants still hold around 100 hostages and the remains of more than 30 others.

Currently:

— U.S. military says Gaza Strip pier project is completed, and aid will soon flow.

— The top U.N. court is holding hearings on the Israeli military’s incursion into Rafah.

— U.S. House to vote on requiring delivery of bombs to Israel in GOP-led rebuke of Biden policies.

— Netanyahu fends off criticism at home and abroad over his lack of a postwar plan for Gaza.

— Interior Department staffer becomes first Jewish Biden appointee to publicly resign over war.

Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Gaza at https://apnews.com/hub/israel-hamas-war

Here’s the latest:

US ORGANIZES FIRST UN MEETING FOCUSING ON HOSTAGES TAKEN DURING OCT. 7 ATTACK

UNITED NATIONS – The United States organized the first U.N. meeting focusing on the more than 240 hostages taken captive during Hamas’ surprise attack in southern Israel on Oct. 7.

The informal meeting of the U.N. Security Council on Thursday heard from one former hostage and several relatives of hostages still being held in Gaza, and there was unanimous condemnation of hostage-taking by all 15 council members and other speakers.

But Russia, China, Algeria which represents the 22 Arab nations on the council, and other countries also condemned Israel’s retaliatory attacks in Gaza which have killed over 35,000 Palestinians, according to the Gaza Health Ministry and destroyed most of the territory’s infrastructure.

U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield told the meeting in a U.N. conference room that the demand of the United States, its 25 co-sponsors, all Israelis, and many others is simple: bring the hostages who come from 20 countries home.

“This is a responsibility that President (Joe) Biden feels, to his core, and he’s committed to seeing through,” she said. “Taking hostages is cowardly – a cowardly tactic designed to instill fear, manipulate governments, and advance nefarious agendas. It violates basic principles of humanity.”

Israel’s U.N. Ambassador Gilad Erdan said “this is the first meeting being held by any U.N. body to focus on their suffering and ways to release them.”

“In the past 32 weeks since Oct. 7, the Security Council and the U.N. have done practically, practically nothing to secure the release of the hostages,” he said. “It is heartbreaking and amoral. Our hostages are enduring beatings, torture, and rape.”

Russian diplomat Georgiy Barsukov told the meeting his country had unequivocally condemned Hamas’ hostage-taking in their attack which killed about 1,200 people.

But he asked why the U.S. was focusing on Oct. 7 “when there are many indications that genocide is being committed against Palestinians in Gaza – and when the Israelis are defying the overwhelming majority of the international community and launching an operation in Rafah, home to hundreds of thousands of Palestinian civilians.”

ISRAEL SAYS 2 THAI FARM WORKERS WERE KILLED IN OCT. 7 ATTACK, NOT TAKEN HOSTAGE, AND THEIR BODIES ARE HELD BY HAMAS

JERUSALEM — The Israeli military says two Thai farm workers believed to have been taken hostage by Hamas were killed in the Oct. 7 attack.

Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, the top military spokesman, said Thursday that Sonthaya Oakkharasri and Sudthisak Rinthalak were killed during the initial attack and their remains are being held by Hamas.

The Hotline for Migrants and Asylum Seekers, an Israeli organization, said it had celebrated Oakkharasri’s 31st birthday on Thursday, believing he was alive.

Farming communities in southern Israel employ a large number of Thai workers, who are drawn to the country by higher wages.

Hagari said 39 Thai citizens were killed during the Oct. 7 attack, which triggered the war in Gaza, and another 31 were kidnapped. Twenty-three were released during a cease-fire in November and six remain in captivity.

Hamas and other militants abducted some 250 people in the Oct. 7 attack. They are still believed to be holding around 100 hostages and the remains of more than 30 after most of the rest were released during last year’s cease-fire.

The United States, Egypt and Qatar have spent months trying to broker another cease-fire and hostage release.

Hamas is demanding an end to the war and the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza. Israel has rejected those demands, saying it must continue its offensive to dismantle Hamas and prevent future attacks.

UNITED NATIONS SAYS IT DOESN’T HAVE ENOUGH FUEL TO DISTRIBUTE AID IN GAZA FROM NEW U.S. PIER

UNITED NATIONS – The United Nations says it doesn’t have fuel to deliver humanitarian aid to desperate Palestinians in Gaza, and unless it gets regular deliveries it won’t be able to distribute food and other supplies entering by land or a new U.S.-built floating pier.

“Fuel imports have, for all practical purposes, stopped,” U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said Thursday.

“We desperately need fuel,” Haq said. “It doesn’t matter how the aid comes, whether it’s by sea or whether by land — without fuel, aid won’t get to the people.”

Negotiations are still ongoing about the U.N.’s involvement in distributing the aid throughout the Gaza Strip, Haq said. He sidestepped a question on whether the U.N. requirement for the neutrality of its operations is still an issue in the negotiations, particularly regarding the participation of the Israeli military. He said the U.N. insists that the neutrality of all its operations must be protected, “so we continue to insist on that.”

Haq said the safety of U.N. staff must be ensured in handling aid and stressed that “community awareness and acceptance is paramount to ensure the safety and security of this operation.”

While expressing gratitude to Cyprus and other countries for operating the maritime corridor to Gaza and thanking the United States for creating the floating dock, Haq reiterated the longstanding U.N. position: The delivery of aid by land is “the most viable, effective and efficient aid delivery method which is why we need all crossing points open.”

“To stave off the horrors of famine we must use the fastest and most obvious route to reach the people of Gaza,” he said. “And for that we need access by land now.”

Only small amounts of food are getting into Gaza from crossings in the northern border with Israel, while crossings into the south have been closed for days, Haq said, “unsafe to access or not logistically viable.”

Without a regular fuel supply, Haq said, “everything stops” — trucks, hospital operations and their generators, water pumping facilities, desalination plants and sewage pumping.

In the southern city of Rafah, where Israel is conducting an offensive, the U.N. agency helping Palestinian refugees reported Wednesday that about 600,000 had fled the fighting but Haq said it’s more now. “It seems like every day there’s tens of thousands, up to 100,000 more per day leaving,” he said.

ARAB LEAGUE CALLS FOR IMMEDIATE END TO FIGHTING IN GAZA, AND BLAMES ISRAEL FOR FAILED CEASE-FIRE TALKS

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The Arab League on Thursday called for an immediate end to fighting in the Israel-Hamas war in the Gaza Strip and blamed Israeli “obstruction” for failed negotiations for a cease-fire.

The Arab League issued the statement after a summit in Bahrain drew top leaders.

“We stress the need to stop the Israeli aggression against the Gaza Strip immediately, withdraw the Israeli occupation forces from all areas of the Strip (and) lift the siege imposed on it,” the statement said.

The countries also called for the release of “hostages and detainees.”

The statement blamed Israel for the war continuing.

“We strongly condemn Israel’s obstruction of cease-fire efforts in the Gaza Strip and its continued military escalation by expanding its aggression against the Palestinian city of Rafah, despite international warnings of the disastrous humanitarian consequences,” it said.

The group also reiterated a longstanding call for a two-state solution along Israel’s 1967 borders, with east Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital.

The statement called on Palestinian factions to join under the Palestine Liberation Organization, which it said was “the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.”

The Arab League is a 22-member organization founded in 1945 to promote regional cooperation and resolve disputes. However, it is widely seen as toothless and has long struggled to help solve conflicts in the Mideast.

SOUTH AFRICA SAYS GAZA IS BEING ‘WIPED OFF THE MAP’ AND ASKS U.N. COURT TO HALT ISRAEL’S INVASION OF RAFAH

THE HAGUE — South Africa told the United Nations’ top court on Thursday the situation in Gaza has reached “a new and horrific stage” as it sought emergency measures to halt Israel’s military operation in the enclave’s southern city of Rafah.

It was the third time the International Court of Justice held hearings on the conflict in Gaza since South Africa filed proceedings at The Hague-based court in December accusing Israel of genocide.

“Seven months ago South Africa could not have imagined that Gaza would be largely wiped off the map,” the country’s ambassador to the Netherlands, Vusimuzi Madonsela, told the panel of 15 international judges Thursday.

During hearings earlier this year, Israel strongly denied committing genocide in Gaza, saying it does all it can to spare civilians and is only targeting Hamas militants. Israel says Rafah is the last stronghold of the militant group.

South Africa argues that the military operation has far surpassed justified self-defense. “Israel’s actions in Rafah are part of the end game. This is the last step in the destruction of Gaza,” lawyer Vaughan Lowe said.

According to the latest request, the previous preliminary orders by The Hague-based court were not sufficient to address “a brutal military attack on the sole remaining refuge for the people of Gaza.” Israel will be allowed to answer the accusations on Friday.

In January, judges ordered Israel to do all it can to prevent death, destruction and any acts of genocide in Gaza, but the panel stopped short of ordering an end to the military offensive that has laid waste to the Palestinian enclave. In a second order in March, the court said Israel must take measures to improve the humanitarian situation.

EGYPT’S PRESIDENT ACCUSES ISRAEL OF UNDERMINING CEASE-FIRE TALKS

CAIRO — Egypt’s president has accused Israel of undermining talks aimed at a cease-fire in Gaza.

Addressing an Arab League summit in Bahrain on Thursday, Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi said Israel “continues to engage in evasive actions to shirk its responsibilities and in devious maneuvering around efforts to achieve a cease-fire.”

He said that by seizing the Gaza side of the Rafah crossing with Egypt last week, Israel aimed to “solidify its siege on the Gaza Strip.”

Egypt was the first Arab country to make peace with Israel and the two countries have long cooperated on security.

But Egyptian officials have expressed mounting frustration since the start of the war in Gaza and tensions soared after the Rafah operation.

Egypt has warned that any major Israeli operation in Rafah could endanger the decades-old peace treaty, widely seen as a cornerstone of stability in the Middle East.

Egypt is also one of the main mediators between Israel and Hamas. The last round of talks aimed at a cease-fire and the release of Hamas-held hostages ended last week without a breakthrough.

PAPAL ENVOY TO HOLY LAND VISITS NORTHERN GAZA IN SUPPORT OF CHRISTIAN MINORITY

JERUSALEM — The papal envoy to the Holy Land is visiting the Gaza Strip on a mission aimed at supporting the territory’s small Christian community.

The Latin Patriarchate in Jerusalem says Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa entered Gaza on Thursday and visited the Holy Family Church in Gaza City.

It says he and a small delegation “met the suffering population to encourage them and to deliver a message of hope, solidarity, and support.” He also presided over Mass at the church.

It was not immediately clear how he entered Gaza and the patriarchate declined to comment.

The church is in northern Gaza, which was the first target of Israel’s offensive and has been largely isolated by Israeli troops for months. Heavy fighting has erupted in areas adjacent to Gaza City in recent days.

Gaza, with a population of 2.3 million, is home to a small community of some 1,300 Palestinian Christians

HEZBOLLAH SAYS IT USED MISSILE-CARRYING DRONE TO STRIKE ISRAELI MILITARY POST

BEIRUT — Lebanon’s Hezbollah militant group says it has attacked an Israeli military post in the northern town of Metula using a drone that fired two missiles at its target. Three Israeli soldiers were wounded, the military said.

Thursday’s strike was the first time that Hezbollah said it used drones that fire missiles since the fighting broke out seven months ago. Previously, they have used on explosive drones.

The Israeli military said later that an explosive drone crossed from Lebanese territory into northern Israel and exploded in the area of Metula, adding that the attack is under review.

As a result of the explosion, an Israeli military said a soldier was severely wounded and two additional soldiers were lightly injured. The soldiers were evacuated to the hospital for medical treatment and their families have been notified, the army said.

Hezbollah said in a statement that the drone flew to a designated point and then fired two S-5 missiles toward military vehicles and troops who were standing nearby, leaving them “dead or wounded.” The statement said the drone then moved toward the target and exploded inside the base, scoring a direct hit.

Hezbollah has been escalating its attacks on northern Israel in recent weeks, mainly after Israel’s military attacked the southern city of Rafah in the Gaza Strip last week capturing the main border crossing between Gaza and Egypt.

Hezbollah officials have vowed not to stop fighting along Israel’s northern border until the offensive on the Gaza Strip stops.

PALESTINIAN PRESIDENT CRITICIZES HAMAS FOR OCT. 7 ATTACK

RAMALLAH, West Bank — Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas criticized Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel, saying it gave Israel “more pretexts” to attack Gaza. The Western-backed leader of the Palestinian Authority, which administers parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, stopped short of condemning the attack.

In a speech at an Arab League summit in Bahrain on Thursday, Abbas said: “The military operation carried out by Hamas on that day provided Israel with more pretexts to attack Gaza, resulting in further killing, destruction, and displacement.”

He also reiterated his longstanding condemnation of any attack targeting civilians.

Abbas’ secular Fatah movement is the political rival of Hamas, which drove his forces out of Gaza when it seized power in the territory in 2007.

Hamas launched a surprise attack out of Gaza on Oct. 7 that overwhelmed Israel’s defenses and allowed thousands of militants to cross into southern Israel. They killed some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and abducted around 250 hostages.

Israel launched a military onslaught in response that has killed over 35,000 Palestinians, according to health authorities in Gaza. The air, land and sea offensive has caused vast destruction and driven most of the population from their homes.

ISRAELI DEFENSE MINISTER SAYS MORE TROOPS WILL HEAD TO RAFAH

JERUSALEM — Israel’s defense minister says more troops will be sent into the southern Gaza city of Rafah, where the military says it has destroyed Hamas tunnels and killed dozens of militants.

Israel began what it said was a limited operation in Rafah last week after the United States and other allies pressed it not to launch a full-scale invasion.

But even the limited operation has sparked an exodus of 600,000 Palestinians from the city, according to the United Nations. Before the incursion, more than a million Palestinians who had fled fighting in other areas were sheltering in Rafah.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, visiting the area on Wednesday, said “this operation will continue as additional forces will enter.” He said “we are wearing Hamas down,” more than seven months into the war triggered by the militant group’s Oct. 7 attack.

Even as Israeli troops have pushed into parts of Rafah, Hamas has regrouped in other areas of Gaza that were heavily bombed earlier in the war, and which the military said it had cleared.

The United States has warned Israel not to launch a wide-scale offensive in Rafah because of the toll it would take on civilians. President Joe Biden has said the U.S. won’t provide offensive weapons for such an operation.

HEZBOLLAH FIRES ROCKETS INTO ISRAEL AS TIT-FOR-TAT COMBAT ESCALATES

JERUSALEM — The Hezbollah militant group said it fired dozens of rockets from Lebanon into Israel on Thursday, the latest in tit-for-tat combat between the sides that has escalated over the last week.

The group said it fired 60 rockets at three military posts in the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights in retaliation for earlier Israeli airstrikes.

Israel’s military said it responded to what it said were some 40 rockets launched Thursday by striking Hezbollah military posts.

Hezbollah has increased the amount of rockets it has been firing into Israel in recent days and on Wednesday it reportedly struck its deepest target in Israel since the start of the fighting in October. Israeli media reported that an Israeli air force target was struck by a drone, a report the military declined to comment on.

“Hezbollah has been escalating the situation in the north,” said military spokesman Lt. Col. Nadav Shoshani. “They’ve been firing more and more.”

Israel has also been striking deep inside Lebanon.

The fighting began shortly after Israel launched its war against Hamas following the militant group’s attack on southern Israel.

ISRAELI MILITARY SAYS IT KILLED 100 MILITANTS SINCE THE START OF RAFAH OFFENSIVE LAST WEEK

JERUSALEM — Israel’s military said Thursday its forces have killed 100 militants since it launched an invasion into the southernmost Gaza city of Rafah last week.

Military spokesman Lt. Col. Nadav Shoshani told reporters Thursday that Israeli forces found militant tunnel shafts underneath and in the vicinity of the Rafah crossing near the border with Egypt. Israeli forces seized the crossing at the start of the operation in Rafah.

“We are continuing to operate in the Rafah crossing,” said Shoshani.

Israel says it is operating in Rafah to destroy remaining Hamas battalions there and to rescue Israeli hostages. Israel’s plans for Rafah have raised international alarm because the city had provided shelter to more than a million Palestinians. While the current operation does not appear to be a full-scale invasion, it has sent 600,000 people fleeing the city since the offensive began last week, according to the United Nations.

An Israeli strike overnight hit a residential home in central Rafah, killing four men, including a 65-year-old man and his 22-year-old son, according to records from Kuwaiti hospital.

Another strike, in the southern city of Khan Younis, killed five children, said Dr. Ammar Ghanem, a visiting doctor from the U.S. stationed at the European Hospital where the bodies were taken. One of the five, a girl, was brought to the hospital with internal bleeding after surviving the initial strike on Thursday, Ghanem said, but she died while getting a CT scan.

Shoshani said forces were also operating in the northern Gaza areas of Jabaliya and Zeitoun where fierce fighting continued with militants. The spike in fighting suggests that Hamas is regrouping in areas the Israeli military said it had asserted control over months ago. Rocket fire toward Israel has also increased in recent days.

The Health Ministry in Gaza said Thursday that the bodies of 39 Palestinians had been brought to hospitals over the past 24 hours, raising the overall death toll since the start of the war to 35,272. The ministry’s count does not distinguish between militants and noncombatants killed. Israel says it has killed roughly 12,000 militants, without providing evidence.

GERMANY BANS PRO-PALESTINIAN GROUP

BERLIN – German authorities say they have banned a group that showed solidarity with “Palestinian resistance in all forms” and raided properties linked to it.

The interior ministry in the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany’s most populous, said it had banned the Palestine Solidarity Duisburg group on Thursday. It accused the group of spreading antisemitic narratives.

The ministry said police searched four properties in the city of Duisburg linked to the group on Thursday.

The region’s top security official, state Interior Minister Herbert Reul, said the move “sends the right signal” and added in a statement that “in many cases nothing other than hatred for Jews is hidden behind solidarity with Palestine, as in the case of the organization banned today.”

In November, Germany’s federal government implemented a formal ban on activity by or in support of Hamas and dissolved Samidoun, a group that was behind a celebration in Berlin of Hamas’ attack on Israel.

3 PALESTINIANS KILLED BY ISRAELI FORCES IN WEST BANK

JERUSALEM — The Palestinian Health Ministry said Thursday that Israeli forces killed three Palestinians in the northern West Bank.

The Israeli military did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Ramallah-based ministry said that the three men, all younger than 30, were killed by Israeli fire overnight in the flashpoint city of Tulkarem, though the circumstances of the shootings were uncertain.

Since Oct. 7, violence has flared in the occupied territory, with stepped-up Israeli raids into Palestinian cities and towns often turning deadly. The shootings pushed the Palestinian death toll in the territory since the beginning of the war in Gaza to just over 500.

Also overnight, Israeli police said they shot and killed a man who attempted to stab an officer in east Jerusalem. Police said the officers opened fire as the man charged at them with a knife, killing him. The officers were not wounded and the identity of the attacker was not immediately clear.

Palestinians and rights groups say Israel uses excessive force to subdue suspected attackers. Israel says its forces face complex and often life-threatening situations that demand a response.

In other violence, the Israeli military said Thursday a noncommissioned officer was moderately wounded in a stabbing attack in the West Bank. The army later said it had arrested a suspect in the attack.

Attacks by Palestinians have also been on the rise since the war against Hamas broke out on Oct. 7.

U.S. FINISHES PIER TO FERRY HUMANITARIAN AID TO GAZA

WASHINGTON — The U.S. military finished installing a floating pier for the Gaza Strip on Thursday.

Officials said they are poised to begin ferrying badly needed humanitarian aid into the enclave besieged over seven months of intense fighting in the Israel-Hamas war.

The final, overnight construction sets up a complicated delivery process more than two months after President Joe Biden ordered it to help Palestinians facing starvation as food and other supplies fail to make it in.

Israel recently seized the key Rafah border crossing in its push on that southern city on the Egyptian border, complicating those shipments. U.S. troops anchored the pier at 7:40 a.m. local time Thursday. That’s according to the military’s Central Command, which stressed none of its forces entered the Gaza Strip.

ISRAELI FORCES KILL 3 PALESTINIANS IN WEST BANK

JERUSALEM — The Palestinian Health Ministry said Thursday that Israeli forces killed three Palestinians in the northern West Bank.

The Israeli military did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Ramallah-based ministry said that the three men, all younger than 30, were killed by Israeli fire overnight in the flashpoint city of Tulkarem, though the circumstances of the shootings were uncertain.

Since Oct. 7, violence has flared in the occupied territory, with stepped-up Israeli raids into Palestinian cities and towns often turning deadly. The shootings pushed the Palestinian death toll in the territory since the beginning of the war in Gaza to just over 500.

Also overnight, Israeli police said they shot and killed a man who attempted to stab an officer in east Jerusalem. Police said the officers opened fire as the man charged at them with a knife, killing him. The officers were not wounded and the identity of the attacker was immediately unclear.

Palestinians and rights groups say Israel uses excessive force in attempting to subdue suspected attackers. Israel says its forces face complex and often life-threatening situations that demand a response.

Attacks by Palestinians have been on the rise since the war against Hamas broke out on Oct. 7.

5 ISRAELI SOLDIERS KILLED IN GAZA, REPORTEDLY BY FRIENDLY FIRE

TEL AVIV, Israel — The Israeli military said Thursday that five soldiers have been killed in northern Gaza, which Israeli media said was the result of a friendly fire incident.

The military released the names of those killed, but did not immediately disclose the circumstances of their deaths.

Israeli Army Radio said a tank fired on a building housing the soldiers, killing five and wounding seven.

There have been multiple friendly-fire incidents throughout the 7-month-long war. At least 27 soldiers have been killed in mistaken fire by Israeli forces, according to military figures.

The incident comes as Israel has reinvaded parts of northern Gaza that it previously said it had asserted control over. Heavy battles have taken place with militants in recent days and rocket fire toward Israel has increased, suggesting Hamas is regrouping in those areas.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has faced criticism from Israel’s top ally, the U.S., as well as at home for not moving toward a postwar vision for Gaza that would replace Hamas with different Palestinian governance.

Along with the fighting in northern Gaza, Israeli troops have also pushed into parts of the southernmost Gaza city of Rafah.

ISRAELI AIRSTRIKES TARGET HEZBOLLAH STRONGHOLD IN LEBANON

BEIRUT — Israel’s air force conducted airstrikes that targeted mountains in northeast Lebanon close to the border with Syria. There was no word on casualties.

Al-Manar TV of Lebanon’s militant Hezbollah group said the airstrikes that occurred around midnight Wednesday struck the hills overlooking the town of Brital. It gave no further details.

The area that was attacked is a Hezbollah stronghold and is a vital route that links the group’s positions in eastern Lebanon with Syria’s Qalamoun mountains, where Hezbollah also has military presence.

The Israeli military said there were no injuries from the strike.

The Israeli strikes came hours after Hezbollah said it attacked with explosive drones an Israeli military base near the city of Tiberias, their deepest strike in Israel since the two sides began exchanging fire a day after the Israel-Hamas broke out on Oct. 7.

By The Associated Press

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